lostinjersey (lostinjersey) wrote in abandonedplaces,

North brother Island

  • Riverside Hospital opened on North Brother Island in 1885. Patients with communicable
    diseases such as typhus, smallpox, cholera, yellow fever, and other exotic illnesses were
    brought here. This was where "Typhoid Mary" was sent after she continued to work
    as a cook despite being a carrier of TB and causing as many as 50 deaths.

  • An expansion wing meant for TB patients was used as dormitory space for local college
    residents in 1943. Eventually the hospital treated hard core drug users before it was shut
    down in 1963 and it has been unused ever since.

  • The worst maritime disaster in NY history  occurred here when, on June 15, 1904,
    the General Slocum experienced a fire. Life rafts were nailed and painted to the decks and
    life vests were so rotten that they actually sank to the bottom rather then floated. The
    pleasure ship was headed for a church picnic on LI when the fire broke out and the captain
    steered it onto the beach of North Brother Island. Over 1,000 people died, their burnt
    bodies laid out on the beach for the coroner.

  • First off I should mention that my adventure that day was rather risky, and second, here's all the photos

    The East River in New York City
    separates the island of Manhattan from Queens, beginning at it's southern end at the
    Raritan Bay which leads to the Atlantic Ocean. Going north it merges with the Harlem River
    at the Triborough Bridge and  Randall island, flowing pass Rikers Island, under the
    Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and the Throgsneck Bridge, and on into Long Island Sound. The area
    around Rikers Island and Laguardia airport is known as the Bay of Brothers. It is called
    this because of two smaller islands known as North Brother Island (13 acres) and South
    Brother Island (7 acres). Although Randalls and Rikers are accessible by car via bridge,
    neither of the Brother Islands can be gotten to except by boat.  This section of
    river is known as Hell's Gate, from the Dutch equivalent Helle Gadt, due to the dangerous
    tidal currents. It is not a place to be taken lightly.

    The islands were seen by the first Dutch settlers to colonize the area,
    and were claimed for the Dutch West India Trading Company in 1614 by Adrien Block.
      The settlers never established any settlements on the island, no doubt due to
    the hostile waters. A lighthouse was built on North Brother Island in 1869 and after
    several upgrades, functioned until 1953. The lighthouse keeper's house still remains but
    is deteriorating after 50 years of disuse. The first known use of South Brother Island was
    by a brewery owner named Jacob Ruppert, who built a summer cottage in 1897. North Brother
    Island was developed heavily two years earlier when Riverside Hospital opened there. It
    was a repository for exotic and infectious diseases like typhus, TB, cholera, yellow fever
    and smallpox. A similar hospital was established on Roosevelt Island. More wings and
    buildings were established to house the many patients who became ill during various
    outbreaks of these diseases over the next twenty years.

    Mary Mallon was a cook for wealthy families in the NY area, and the
    authorities took notice that several families she worked for came down with typhoid. She
    was tracked down and sent to Riverside Hospital for 3 years before being released. The
    Health Commissioner thought she understood the nature of the illness and that she was a
    carrier. She was an uneducated immigrant however, and was suspicious of the authorities.
    She also was suspect because she herself never became sick, as most carriers of typhoid
    did. She was specifically warned not to work in the field of cooking and that she needed
    to frequently wash her hands. In 1915 the health dept realized that she had violated both
    of those orders and had spread typhoid again. She was captured and sent to Riverside
    Hospital until she died in 1938. She became known as typhoid Mary and the legend says she
    killed thousands but the reality is she probably caused less then 50 deaths.

    A new pavilion was constructed at Riverside Hospital in the 1940's, but
    rather then housing TB patients, it would become a dormitory for college students at City
    College, Columbia and Fordham U. students, as well as a home for war veterans. In 1952,
    the hospital began accepting hardcore heroin addicts; these would be the primary type of
    patient housed here until the hospital closed in  1963. The island and the hospital
    have largely been ignored by humans for the past 40 years. Birds are another story,

    North Brother Island is owned by NYC, and South Brother Island  is
    owned by Hampton Scows, Inc, and has no plans to develop it. Both islands are restricted
    from public access as they are considered vital nesting grounds for local birds. Egrets,
    herons, gulls, and double crested cormorants all have nests on the islands. The city and
    the NY Audubon society are working to remove non-native plant and trees such as Norway
    Maples and Judzu vines and replace them with birch and hack-berry that protect prime
    nesting areas. species in the hopes that it will encourage the breeding of birds, and
    encourage other birds to return, as the harbor herons did in the 1970's. The NY Parks Dept
    seeks volunteers to do work on NBI involving bird counts.

    There is one other important thing about North Brother Island, something
    which most Americans know nothing about. On June 15, 1904 a steamship called the General
    Slocum caught on fire, and it's Captain William Van Schaick steered it towards North
    brother Island. Although it was the third worst maritime disaster in history and more people died then in the infamous
    Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911, most people have no knowledge of this tragedy.
    It remains the greatest maritime disaster in NY history, and the greatest disaster of any
    kind until 9/11. It also remains the most deadly peacetime maritime disaster in American

    I heartily recommend you pick up Ship Ablaze which documents the story
    fully, but briefly here it is.

    The General Slocum had 1300 passengers and was headed from the East
    Village in New York to a church picnic off Long Island. A small fire quickly became an
    inferno. The ship's crew had no training in fighting fires, and the fire hoses literally
    fell apart from lack of maintenance. Lifeboats were painted and nailed to the decks. The
    lifejackets were nailed to the walls, and were in such bad shape they actually dragged
    people to their deaths. The boat has recently been painted feeding the fire and causing it
    to spread. The captain debated docking at several piers nearby but feared of an explosion
    of the numerous oil tanks that were nearby, and pushed full speed ahead to north Brother
    island. This increase in speed fanned the fire further.

    1,021 people died.

    The grieving city demanded answers. Captain Van Schaick, executives of the
    Knickerbocker Steamboat Co., and the Inspector who certified the General Slocum as safe
    only a month before the fire were indicted. The captain was convicted and sentenced to ten
    years in Sing Sing prison, but was pardoned by President Taft after three years. The
    officials of the   Knickerbocker Steamship Company escaped from any jail time
    despite evidence they bribed officials and falsified records to cover up the unsafe
    conditions aboard ship.

    President Roosevelt named a commission to investigate the tragedy, which
    held hearings in  New York and Washington, D. C. These hearing leds to many people
    losing their jobs, and a wave of new safety regulations for all ships. These new
    regulations were quickly enacted and this led to dramatic improvements in steamboat

    The victims of the General Slocum fire were almost entirely German, and
    almost entirely from one neighborhood on the lower East Side known as Kleindeutschland:
    Little Germany. There wasn't a person in the community who didn't have a relative who died
    or personally someone who died. When those 1,021 people died they took the community with
    them. The remaining families could not cope with the sudden loss, and before very long
    Little Germany was no more.

    There is a monument to the disaster in the Lutheran Cemetery Slocum monument, and another
    smaller monument can be found in Tompkins Square Park (between Avenues A and B and East
    7th and 10th Streets, just north of Kleindeutschland). In 1991, this monument was restored
    by the NYC Parks Department. Interestingly, there is no mention of the General Slocum on
    the monument; just the words, "They were earth's purest, children young and

    You can read all about the General Slocum disaster in the book Ship Ablaze.

    page about typhoid Mary

    NY page

    of Brothers lighthouse

    photos of NBI

    Stuck on NBI

    Parks dept page about NBI


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